NEW LENOX — History has proven time and time again in regards to the Providence baseball program, that if you have a chance to slay the dragon you had better not miss the opportunity if it presents itself.
Lincoln-Way East had that chance on Saturday, didn’t capitalize on it, and Providence does what the Celtics typically do in that situation, rallying late to capture a 5-2 victory and secure its place in what appears to be an absolutely stacked Lockport Sectional on Thursday.
“In the sixth inning, I brought them in and told them: Boys this is what we do. This is what this program is known for,” Providence coach Mark Smith said. “You just have to get a couple of guys on base and create some pressure, we haven’t put any pressure on them.”
Severe pressure was applied by the Celtics (21-15) in the top half of the sixth inning, with Providence trailing 2-0. Ryan Mrozek started things with a perfect bunt for a hit and Tyler Young followed with a walk. Jackson Smith’s ground out pushed the runners to second and third which was important because back-to-back singles from Gavin Gomez and freshman Enzo Infelise tied the score at 2-2.
Lincoln-Way East starter Zach Kwanzy, who had been spectacular to that point, looked as if he might be able to keep the Celtics from seizing the lead, but an infield error allowed the go-ahead run to score before he was able to record a strikeout to get out of the frame.
A shell-shocked Griffins (23-8) squad tried to gather its bearings, but Providence pitcher Jack Wajda wasn’t too inclined to allow that to happen.
Wajda had a rocky beginning to the game, surrendering a home run to Alex Stanwich in the first inning and then had a mistake pitch smashed for another solo homer by Andrew Bollman in the second.
But the important thing to note was that both homers were solo shots and after avoiding some additional base traffic in the second, Wajda was able to retain his focus and stymie the Lincoln-Way East bats.
At one point, Wajda set down 10 consecutive Griffins and after the second inning not a single Lincoln-Way East player was able to advance past first base the rest of the way.
Wajda ended the game my inducing a fly out to right field from Stanwich as he was quickly closing in on exceeding the pitch count that would have caused him to have to leave the game.
“After the first one (home run) I was pretty upset with myself, I left a pitch up and the second one, that was my bad I just missed on that pitch,” Wajda said. “I told myself that I’m a lot better than this and I had to battle through the rest of the five innings and my defense had my back especially. I just had to calm myself down. I kind of laughed at myself and was like, wow what a great start, it can’t get any worse, so let’s just battle.”
It looked like it might get worse. Wajda issued a walk and then committed a fielding error after the Bollman home run. But he was able to induce back to back ground ball outs to get out of the frame. The rest of the way, Wajda would allow just two hits and a walk to the Griffins.
The failure to add on runs, specifically after Bollman’s second inning homer, was what Lincoln-Way East coach Eric Brauer felt ultimately did in his very talented squad.
“In hindsight, that inning where we had Wajda on the ropes, where we got the first two guys on and we don’t get another one there, and we had him on the ropes and we probably could have knocked him out in the second or third innings” Brauer said. “And then we had some bad at-bats in the middle innings when we were ahead, it wasn’t costing us at that time, but in hindsight not being able to expand that lead when we were in control of that game was very costly.”
Providence all but cemented the win tacking on two insurance runs in the top of the seventh inning getting an RBI single from Young and and RBI double from Smith to push the lead to 5-2. It gave Providence a healthy cushion and for a team that has already been in a whopping 16 one-run games this year, it was testament to the strength of the Celtics schedule and its will power.
“It is what prepares you for the postseason. We’ve played 16 one-run games, we lost 10 of them. If you somehow win those games, or you win half of them, we’d have a completely different record and people would be like Providence is a pretty good team,” Smith said. “We were 11-14 at one time, and I said boys we’re not that bad. We just found ways to lose, we’d make a mistake here, we’d make a mistake there and in bad situation. But that’s how we learn and that’s how you prepare for the postseason.”